Because of the Easter holiday, this is the weekend edition of TheMarioBlog and will be upgraded as needed. The next blog post is Monday, April 21.

Update 1: New York City, Thursday, April 17, 8:29

TAKEAWAY: When Joe Zeff spoke to my Columbia University class a few weeks ago, he mentioned the term appumentary in the midst of his presentation. Students were on alert, and so was I. What an apt way to describe the style of storytelling that involves the app and the documentary. Now he shows us what an appumentary is.

Spies of The Mississippi: an appumentary from Joe Zeff Design

Appumentary is a term you are likely to hear mentioned more often, now that those folks at Joe Zeff Design have not only defined it for us, but showed us what it means.

Joe Zeff Design has just released Spies of the Mississippi: The Appumentary, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement with a new kind of storytelling app. Based on a book and PBS documentary film, our first appumentary turns a story into a starting point — for discussion, exploration and response.

The app begins with a definition of the term:

Appumentary, a digital application that tells a factual story using interactive tools not possible in a book or film, so that the audience can engage, explore and respond.

Joe and his team found just the right topic, on a subject that needs to be told and retold to generations to come.

According to Joe, Spies of The Mississippi is an important story about democracy. From 1956 to 1997, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission infiltrated civil rights organizations in the state in an effort to preserve racial segregation. Documents made public in 1998 revealed the extent of the publicly-funded spy operation, with secret files on more than 87,000 American citizens and complicity in the murders of three civil rights workers.

Spies of The Mississippi was first presented in a book by Rick Bowers and then in a documentary film by Dawn Porter.

It is a story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain “the Mississippi way of life,” white supremacy, during the 1950s and ‘60s.

The making of an appumentary
Hand drawn sketches for Spies of The Mississippi, courtesy of Joe Zeff Design

I asked Joe about his process in getting the Spies of The Mississippii made:

“We started with a book, a film, and a blank sheet of paper.

“We rallied around a set of goals, all of which I believe we achieved:

• Deliver broader context, presented as interactive content

• Promote online and offline discussion

• Provide classroom tools

• Provide access to filmmaker, film subjects

• Build and strengthen communities of like-minded individuals

• Inspire youth to respond to situations through artistic expression

• Provide opportunities to take action

Extending the story via multimedia

I like how the app succeeds in “converting the passive experience of reading a book, or watching a movie into an activity….”

I also like how the senses are all stimulated at the touch of the screen: read a summary, watch excerpts of the film, listen to music, meet the people, browse documents.

The appumentary opens with music, then invites you to enter. Once you do, a navigator guides you to a Welcome, The Story, The Film and Your Turn (teach/discuss/contribute/own).

The look and feel of Spies of The Mississippi creates an instant mood for the period in which the story takes place. Text appears as if out of an old typewriter, with yellowed pages protruding from the background.

It’s all about engaging the user and allowing him to make choices on how to proceed. One can watch the three excerpts from the film. Or, if one chooses to meet the key players of the story, just tap and a mini story appears to accompany the photograph. Tap at the bottom of the stories and get to the various Spy Reports, which then appear as film of the actual documents.

Browse through some of the commission documents at will, tap to examine the documents.

At the end, Your Turn, resources for teachers, according to grade levels, discussion topics, voices of civil rights and actual audio plus the ability of the user to submit his own civil right stories.

All in all, Spies of The Mississippi advances multimedia storytelling, reminding us of what we can do to take a story and, mixing various genres, appeal to the senses and create an environment in which the user can engage totally. There is nothing passive about how this important story is told.

Why Spies of the The Mississippi is important

I recommend this appumentary as the pioneering effort that it represents.

Spies is, indeed, a major undertaking, requiring the talents of many. But that is the way multimedia storytelling works: not one person can be an expert on the various pieces that must come together.

Multimedia storytelling is the work of a team. It all begins with a solid, well focused story, as this example shows. It continues with a good sense of information architecture, the clear navigation patterns that we see here (less is best), then it all comes together through a look & feel in which the designer creates a mood for the piece, one that transmits the essence of the story in 10 seconds or less, before we begin our journey.

Joe Zeff and his team deserve kudos for this appumentary. I am hoping that this will become an example that all of us can learn from. I will make sure that the students in my Columbia University class are exposed to it as they prepare their final projects.

Just like there was Snowfall as a pioneering example for multimedia storytelling, there is Spies of The Mississippi as the piece that gave us the term appumentary, and which showed us how we can tell stories combining the best of the book, radio and film, while engaging the audience at every step.

“There’s no reason that the same tenets we used couldn’t be applied to news or enterprise reporting. I hope that we inspire news organizations, filmmakers and authors to push the idea of an appumentary even further,” Joe Zeff said.

I agree.

The early catalog of distinguished multimedia storytelling can now add a valuable and remarkable piece with Spies of the Mississippi, a piece that holds double historic value: for its content and for its contribution to our craft.

For more details:

Get the app free from the iTunes Store:

The Los Angeles Register premieres today

Volume 1, Number 1 of Los Angeles Register, Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Aaron Kushner is publisher of the new Los Angeles Register, which premieres today

Not that I would need an excuse, but I will be raising my glass of Veuve Clicquot today when a new 7-day a week newspaper, Los Angeles Register, will be born, serving Los Angeles County. It is great to see a printed newspaper created in 2014, a time when newspapers are struggling desperately to make it, and those forever connected millenials are connected to their smartphones. Aaron Kushner, co-owner and publisher of The Orange County Register, and a youngster himself, apparently knows (and believes) differently. So, let’s welcome the Los Angeles Register and wish it a long life.

Of related interest:

Six things to consider about the new Los Angeles Register

Rieder: Launching a new paper in LA a bold move

TheMarioBlog post # 1467
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